Who’s the Boss, Turkey? (sample blog)

Another sample blog on Turkish politics; this is my write-up on Turkey’s executive system.

When we look at executive-legislative relations in democracies, one of the first thing a political scientist might do is try to figure out whether a country is a parliamentary,  presidential, or semi-presidential system. Some countries throw us off  (I’m looking at you, South Africa, with that PM you call a President!), but few countries are as hard to classify as Turkey.

First, to explain the differences between these executive systems.  In parliamentary systems:

  • The executive is elected by the parliament (not the people) and is a member of the parliament.
  • They fills the role of head of government (the person who actually runs things).
  • That person may be called the Prime Minister, Chancellor (Germany), or something else (like in South Africa).
  • They have a separate head of state (someone who plays a ceremonial role but does little actual governing), like the UK’s Queen or Germany with their President.
  • Parliamentary systems are some of the most efficient when it  comes to policy-making, though they may have issues with public accountability.

In presidential systems:

  • The executive is directly elected by the people.
  • They are both head of state and head of government.
  • The executive is independent of the legislature, having their own branch of government (that whole “separation of powers” thing).
  • Americans might be surprised to hear that this type of system is fairly rare among democracies due to issues with policy-making deadlock and zero-sum politics.

Semi-presidential systems are a bit weird because:

  • They have both a president (directly elected) and a prime minister who is appointed by the president and who leads the governing coalition in the parliament.
  • The president is still the symbolic leader of the country (so, head of state), but head of government roles are often split (at least on paper).
  • While some argue the jury is still out on these systems, a lot of scholars (and I agree with them!) warn that semi-presidential systems might be bad news for democracy.

Knowing where a country fits tells us an awful lot about how policy-making works in that country.  And, while there are some weird countries, most fit pretty well. Of course, then you have a country like Turkey who likes to make things difficult.

Up until 2010, Turkey was a parliamentary system a lot like Germany’s; the parliament elected both the Prime Minister and the President, and the President was largely a ceremonial position.  Then in 2007, Turkey experienced a bit of a crisis when the Islamic AKP (who had just won a landslide election) was unable to elect their candidate because an opposition boycott meant they were unable to meet the required quorum.  In response, the AKP held a constitutional referendum on directly electing the president.  After it passed, the AKP’s candidate Abdullah Gül was elected, and he currently serves as Turkey’s head of state.

So is Turkey now a presidential or semi-presidential system?  Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan seems to think they’re semi-presidential, or at least that’s what he said last year.  I would disagree.  Even though Turkey’s president can veto legislation, Turkey’s president remains largely a ceremonial position, and it’s easy for the parliament to overrule this veto.  The head of government position remains firmly in the hands of Erdogan.

The president in presidential and semi-presidential systems has a significant policy role.  In fact, a semi-presidential system is almost like a super presidency given that this position has a lot of authority over the parliament with little checks against their power (hence that danger to democracy!).  Big picture?  Turkey is still more parliamentary than semi-presidential, and that’s probably a good thing for them!

One final bit of evidence that it is Erdogan who still runs things?  I don’t remember Gül being featured on the cover of Time.


South Africa. 12 November 2010.  Retrieved from the IFES Election Guide at http://www.electionguide.org/country.php?ID=198.

Crepaz, Markus and Jurg Steiner. 2010. European Democracies. New York: Longman.

Linz, Juan J. 1990. The Perils of Presidentialism.  Journal of Democracy, 1, 1, 51-69.

Elgie, Robert. 2008. The perils of semi-presidentialism. Are they exaggerated? Democratization, 15, 1, 49-66

Turkey’s first five referendums: a look back. (28 July 2010). Hürriyet Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=the-five-referendums-in-the-history-of-turkey-2010-07-28

Turkey has semi-presidential system already, says PM. (3 February 2011). Hürriyet Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=pm-8216turkey-has-a-semi-presidential-system-2011-02-03

The Assignment Prompt

Discuss who the head of state and the head of government are in your country.

Info to include: Is your country a presidential, parliamentary, or semi-presidential system? Who is the “Head of State” in your country? What is the position they hold? How is the Head of State elected? Are they directly elected (elected by the voters of a country)? Who is the current “Head of Government” in your country? What is their official title? If your country has separate heads of state and government, who holds the most power (aka, who takes the lead in policy-making)?

Blog writing tip for students:  Link early, link often.  Hyperlinks can make your blog more interactive (thus fun for your readers), and they can replace traditional in-text citations.  If you are using Microsoft Word, right click on the text you want to hyperlink and open up a menu to add the website.

My assessment of the sample:  When I started this blog, I figured it would be easy to write.  Given what I knew about Turkey, I assumed it had to be a parliamentary system.  Then I looked Turkey up in the CIA World Factbook and discovered that the president was directly elected, which would imply NOT parliamentary.  After doing some research on Turkey, I had to make a call based on what I knew about these systems (with heavy use of our textbook).  So a tip for the students, when you get confused, go back to your textbook and make the best guess based on the description presented there.


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